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Find out how facilities across the country
are saving the earth’s resources —
while saving big bucks in the process.

By Kelly Pedone

As Kermit the Frog once sang, “It isn’t easy being green.” But the desire to conserve energy and limit waste has many facility managers and designers turning toward “green” initiatives that help save the earth while providing huge financial benefits.

“You don’t have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to get on board with environmentally friendly programs,” says Kimberly Hosken, director of new construction for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “You just have to not want the landfills to overflow and have a desire to conserve water and energy.”

In the past 10 years or so, many facilities throughout the country have begun implementing practices that help preserve Mother Earth. For some facilities, like Atlanta’s Gwinnett Center, landscaping is comprised of native plants that require less water to maintain. Reliant Park in Houston uses grass trays for some of its parking areas, creating a “living” parking surface that reduces the urban heat factor.

Other facilities go so far as to change the vendors who supply employee uniforms, implement rigid recycling programs, or use earthfriendly serving materials and energy efficient power systems. Others take it a step further and work toward creating a facility, inside and out, aimed at protecting the planet. “

Everyone needs to do his part to foster a better environment. Knowing that we, by nature of the business, are large consumers, it’s only natural for us to implement (green) programs,” says Jennifer Cooke, spokesperson for McAfee Coliseum and Oakland Arena in Oakland, Calif. “As a result, we truly see a difference made.”

Little Steps
In May 2005, officials with McAfee Coliseum, home of the Oakland A’s, replaced their plastic cups with compostable cups, called Ploy Lactic Acids (PLAs). Depending on attendance, the Coliseum goes through anywhere between 500,000 and a million cups each year and is the facility’s largest concession waste product.

The organic material used for the cups is made from corn and is certified by the Biodegradable Product Institute. The cups turn into 100 percent compost within 30 to 60 days instead of taking months or years to compost as traditional plastic cups. “The program itself costs a bit more in labor and supplies, but we have found partners to ‘sponsor’ the cups to offset the cost,” Cooke says.

The renovated Phoenix Convention Center’s sustainable design elements include sun shading to minimize solar impact indoors. Components of the building are at a level below grade, minimizing the building’s exposure to the elements. Photo courtesy of HOK.

In addition to the cup program, the Coliseum Complex in 2004 started recycling bottles and cans, introduced compostable waste and enhanced the cardboard recycling program. Tree trimmings and grass clippings are gathered and placed into a separate recycling debris box, reducing trash by 39.22 tons annually. Bottles and cans are sorted by hand and placed in a locked storage container until they’re picked up. Food waste from caterer kitchens is either donated to area food banks or emptied into special three-yard bins and recycled via compost.

In 1996, officials with the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia began working with Peco Energy to create an energy-efficient cooling system. The result was ice thermal storage. During offpeak hours when area energy use is low, a 20' x 20' room is filled with water and frozen. That large block of ice is then used during operational hours to cool the building. The cooling refrigerant goes through a series of pipes that blows cool air into the offices. “It reduces our energy costs and limits when we use energy,” says Michael Ahearn, vice president of operations.

The nearly one million-sq.-ft. facility hosts nearly 300 events a year, including games for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers and the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. “It’s a system that works for everyone,” Ahearn says. “It helps reduce our expenses and saves energy for the rest of the community.”

At the Design Stage
HOK Sport Venue Event has been incorporating environmentally friendly design concepts for many years. When Denver’s Coors Field was built more than 10 years ago, they incorporated elements such as waste management, water and energy conservation and recycled materials into the construction process, says spokesperson Gina Leo.

Wachovia Center in Philadelphia worked with Peco Energy to create an energyefficient, ice thermal storage system for cooling. “It reduces our energy costs and limits when we use energy,” says Michael Ahearn, vice president of operations. Photo courtesy of Comcast Spectato.

“Given the large scale of many of our projects, it’s imperative that we take sustainable design measures into account during the design phase,” Leo says. “Many of our projects are large-scale open spaces, so heating and cooling can be difficult. But that inspires us to find creative, sustainable solutions.”

Leo says that although such programs may cost a bit more to implement into facilities upfront, they typically pay for themselves in a few years through built-in energy efficiencies and utility cost savings. Most recently, HOK has worked toward creating facilities that earn LEED certification from the USGBC.

Get the LEED Out
The USGBC offers facility designers and operators a guide and a starting place. The organization’s suggestions range from how to select an environmentally friendly site to how to recycle. LEED certification considerations include site selection, water efficiency and irrigation, energy use, materials and resources that may be recycled and reusable, and indoor air quality.

“LEED certification is relatively new to sports and performing arts venues, but it’s growing,” says the USGBC’s Hosken. “Money tends to be a driving factor — how much it will save down the line versus upfront costs.”

Washington Nationals. Hosken is working with HOK in the design and building of the Washington Nationals baseball stadium and is also working with developers of the proposed Minnesota Twins new stadium. “Sports teams have a huge opportunity to educate consumers,” she says. “A baseball stadium, arena, performing arts center or convention center is more powerful than a general services building because of its high profile. By publicizing their efforts, it gets back to the consumer, who then begins to think about how he can implement environmentally friendly practices in his life.”

The DC Sports & Entertainment Commission authorized builders of the Nationals stadium to pursue green design elements for the facility, which is set to open in 2008. These elements include a sustainable urban site, transit-oriented design, water conservation and cleanliness, use of environmentally sensitive materials, energy efficiency, materials with recycled content, and waste recycling among other measures.

In its renovation of the Phoenix Convention Center, HOK used construction materials from within a 500-mile radius to reduce fuel usage. Photo courtesy of HOK.

“Sustainable design is inherent in all that we do,” says HOK project manager Susan Klumpp. “We’ll be leaving the site in a much better condition than it was received.”

Phoenix Convention Center. HOK is also seeking LEED certification for its renovation of the Phoenix Convention Center. The building’s sustainable design elements include native plants with low-water requirements; high-efficiency irrigation methods, and heating and cooling systems with highenergy performance ratings.

University of Connecticut. College facilities are more apt to build facilities that are environmentally friendly than private or public athletic or performing arts buildings, Hosken says. The University of Connecticut’s Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center are such projects. While the University of Connecticut has developed other green designed campus buildings, the athletic department’s new football training facility is the first collegiate athletic facility to be LEED certified.

Also designed by HOK, the facility includes green elements such as infrared heating units to provide a more energy-efficient way of heating; 7,000 cubic feet of peat excavated from the site to restore and create wetlands; permeable pavement and bioretention swales around the facility to help cleanse or renovate storm water and reduce runoff.

“In the past year, we have increased our number of LEED accredited professionals by 300 percent,” Leo says. “Now every project team has at least one accredited professional on its team to ensure we incorporate sustainable design elements into every project.”

Long-Term Commitment
When Direct Energy agreed to spend $7 million in June for a 10- year naming rights agreement with the former National Trade Center in Toronto, officials agreed to earmark the money for environmental initiatives.

The Direct Energy Centre has more than one million square feet of space and is the largest exhibition and convention center in Canada and the sixth largest in North America. Toronto city leaders developed a concept plan in 2004 that included environmental initiatives. “There is a legacy that will be built here,” says Lara Purdy, director of sales and marketing for Direct Energy Centre.

Outside of the Direct Energy Centre is a 30-story wind turbine that produces one million kilowatt hours of energy per year. As one of the more visible examples of the facility’s commitment to reduce emissions and waste, the turbine also helps to displace some of the harmful chemicals responsible for smog and acid rain. It moves up to 1,800 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Officials recently received approval to install photovoltaic, or solar panels, to test a program that would generate solar heat. If it’s successful, Purdy says, they plan to roll out a major program in the next couple of years that would include a plant to generate one to two megawatts, the largest in Canada.

Facility officials completed a lighting retrofit at the end of June that reduced kilowatt hours by about 2.3 million each year and improved light output. In addition, the exterior of the building and naming signage uses LED technology to provide high light output but lower energy usage.

“We knew that it would be a moderate up-front cost for LED, but the long-term energy savings for us was of greater value,” Purdy says. “Plus, there are no environmental issues with LED since the concept with neo is that gas leaks into the atmosphere.” Even seemingly everyday items have been changed to be more earth friendly. All food waste is sent to a pig farm and nonperishable food overages from the catering department goes to a local food bank. Each office has a small wastebasket and recycling bin.

In guest washrooms, there are two bins for waste — one for garbage and one for hand towels. Stationery and business cards are all printed on 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled printed with vegetable inks. “The printer was required to be certified so we can ensure that we’re practicing what we’re preaching,” Purdy says.

The practices of the staff at Direct Energy Centre have even rubbed off on their clients. Iidex/Neocon Canada, a tradeshow producer for the interior design community, had a substantial portion of its floor devoted to green suppliers during its September show. “They see that we’re being responsible so they’re more responsible,” Purdy says. “They ask for more recycling bins on the showroom floors and ask their customers not to waste.

“There’s a benefit. The more energy we conserve, the less we have to raise our prices.”

Kelly Pedone is a Houston-based freelance writer. She has more than a decade of experience writing for newspapers, legal journals, health publications, and sports, entertainment and retail magazines.


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